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Economics 101

Time for a confession: for most of my adult life I did not think of economics as a subject that touched my life—and certainly never thought that I would be reading a book about it! But so many United Nations issues are rooted in economics: war, poverty, environmental crises. This is nothing new: in English there is a saying that “money is the root of all evil.”  As we prepare for Rio+20 around the issue of Sustainable Development, it becomes clear that one of the biggest parts of that topic is how to create patterns of sustainable consumption.

For years, the measure of a country’s prosperity has been based on its Gross Domestic Product—growth based on the consumption of goods and services. To be better off, we must consume more and more. Because of the environmental and social costs of this approach—social inequity, pollution, climate change— we must rethink what we mean by growth and prosperity. We can’t base it on a single “bottom line,” (economics) but need to create a triple “bottom line: social, environmental, and economic. Bhutan, a small country in the Himalayas, is trying to use the GHQ, a Gross Happiness Quotient that measures the happiness of its citizens!

Let’s face it, economics is a subject just made for women religious—Catholic social teaching is very clear on this: Pope John Paul II said that modern society must look at its lifestyle, and must denounce mechanisms and structures manipulated by the rich at the expense of the poor. Benedict XVI adds that once profit becomes the exclusive goal, it actually destroys wealth and creates poverty, and that “the external deserts of the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast.” And Sister Joan Chittister has called women religious to be “a catalyst to conscience”—we can do that both in our work at the local level and in our work at the U.N.

The economics book I’m reading for Lent this year? The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein. If you are not ready for a whole book, she also wrote an article called “Capitalism Versus the Climate” (The Nation: Nov. 9, 2011) at http://www.thenation.com .  (Thanks to CJ Willie, SC for the inspiration for this).